“The Arcturus has engaged the Kazon!”
Lieutenant Windsor’s voice echoed over the comm through the Hokule’a’s compact cargo bay, making Lancaster’s blood ran cold. He was hoping he’d have at least a day before the Kazon returned, but they were of course there at exactly the moment that they would be the most problematic, as even within the relative safety of the harmonic resonance chamber, there was no saying how it might react to the presence of energy weapons fire. He tapped in the sequence to initiate neutralization of the omega molecules they’d picked up and then glanced over at Dr. Anjar while the chamber started to hum with energy.
Lancaster looked at Anjar and hesitated. Leaving at the final and most important step of their mission did not sit well with him. Some might call him a micromanager, but he would say that he’s ‘hand’s on’ as a leader.
“I can handle this. If you leave Windsor up there alone during a battle, you’re going to have to have the captain’s chair deep cleaned,” Anjar insisted.
Lancaster let out a rare chuckle that wasn’t for Sheppard.
“How… biological. Fine. I’ll monitor from the bridge,” he conceded before leaving Anjar in the cargo bay. “Try not to end interstellar civilization in this sector.”
The bridge was just a short walk down the corridor from the cargo hold. Windsor had already moved out of the captain’s chair to take the forward station when he entered the compartment. With the skeleton crew, he was the only one on the bridge.
“What’s the situation?” Lancaster asked as he took the center seat. “Bowens, get up to the bridge,” he said after tapping his badge.
“There are twelve Kazon ships, sir, and a few dozen fighters. That same carrier came back with a small armada of raiders.”
“Status on the Arcturus?”
“She’s holding her own. Captain Okusanya has put most of their power into the shields to wait them out,” Windsor explained.
Lancaster frowned. The Arcturus was a large ship, and it would be most vulnerable if surrounded and attacked at close range. From the readout on the panel next to the captain’s chair, he could tell that’s exactly what Okusanya had allowed to happen. Bowens entered the bridge as Lancaster was pulling up a visual of the situation.
“Take tactical, Bowens,” Lancaster ordered.
Though he looked confused, Bowens nodded and sat at the tactical station on the port side of the bridge. While he was a pilot, he was the only other real candidate on the ship to fill in on the bridge, as Lancaster hadn’t anticipated needing the support ship’s combat capabilities and hadn’t brought along Odea to minimize the number of witnesses to the mission.
On the viewer, the Arcturus’s shields were glowing blue as they soaked up fire from numerous hostiles, her phaser arrays lashing out to create nearly a full sphere of fire around the ship. That’s what the ship was meant to do if it was surrounded, as it couldn’t match the firepower of a combat ship like the Sovereign-class explorers, but it could power almost all of its arrays at once to make up for its somewhat cumbersome size. Still, it was also meant to rely on its support ship or an entire supporting task group of lesser vessels, not to stand alone. It looked like an elephant being encircled by lions, or in the Kazon’s case, maybe hyenas.
“They’re swarmed,” Bowens noted.
Watching his ship under attack made Lancaster hesitate. He wanted to charge after them, but any stray weapons fire could jeopardize his mission—not only that, but it could result in the death of 500 of his crew.
“Thalruatanian starships are moving to join the battle, sir. Should we join them?” Windsor reported
“Sir?” Windsor asked, looking wide-eyed when he turned around.
“What we have retrieved from the planet’s surface is highly volatile. We can’t risk it.”
Lancaster spun all the way around in the chair and went to one of the aft stations in the situation area where Commander Walker had wired in a remote link to the resonance chamber. At the rate they were going, it would take at least nine more minutes to eliminate all of the Omega. Even for a large, brand-new ship like the Arcturus, it would be tough to weather fire for that long from so many ships. Captain Okusanya was not an experienced enough commander to be able to fight them off, either.
“Open a channel to the Kazon fleet,” Lancaster ordered, returning to his seat. He needed to create distance between the Kazon and the Arcturus so that the Arcturus could make more effective targeting solutions.
“Attention Kazon vessels, this is Captain Lancaster aboard the Hokule’a. I am the one who destroyed your other warship,” he said, coming up with his plan as he did so.
A few moments later, the screen switched to show Maje Teirdan, the very same Kazon bandit leader that had attacked them before.
“You made me watch my men die, and now you will watch as I kill your crew,” the Kazon said, positively apoplectic through the viewscreen. “And then I will take the weapon from the planet!”
Lancaster rolled his eyes at how woefully ignorant the maje was. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about containing any Kazon science on the phenomenon. They still thought it was a weapon, and that might be just enough to defuse the situation.
“Evidently, your equipment is even more primitive than I imagined. If you scan this vessel, you will see that I already have what you came for,” he said. “I had intended to neutralize it, but you may leave me no choice but to use it.”
That was a bluff that Lancaster never thought he would make: threatening to use omega against enemy targets. Whether he could even make such a threat, which implicitly acknowledged the existence of the phenomenon, but since the Kazon already thought it was a weapon, that wasn’t anything new.
The Kazon flinched visibly. “You wouldn’t dare. The sheer arrogance—.”
“You know what has happened to subspace. And you can see what has happened to the planet’s surface. You are delusional if you think I couldn’t just as easily do the same to you and your ships, Maje,” Lancaster goaded.
“Captain, the Kazon ships are turning to intercept us,” Windsor announced.
“Well, now that is an interesting choice, Maje,” Lancaster drawled, standing up from his chair and walking forward to stand directly behind Lieutenant Windsor’s station. “I hope you aren’t banking on my officer hesitating to follow my orders to the letter, even if it is something as insane as unleashing all hell on you. Test me at your peril.”
To reinforce the ruse, Lancaster put his hand on Windsor’s shoulder, which immediately made the other man tense up. The captain would never demonstrate that kind of familiarity with subordinates, especially one as relatively lowly as Windsor, so he hoped it got the message across if the melodramatic line about ‘peril’ didn’t.
“We will take your technology and your ship. You will watch as I execute your crew,” the Kazon replied, faltering.
“Target them with ‘the weapon,’ Lieutenant. This idiot clearly has no idea who he is messing with,” Lancaster ordered.
“Aye… Aye, sir,” Windsor replied.
“Last chance, Maje. Turn back now.”
The Kazon growled before cutting the channel.
“They’re retreating, sir!” Windsor reported.
Lancaster exhaled slowly. That was likely not the last they would see of the Kazon, but at least the present situation was a little less dire. Wondering whether the Kazon-Reloramar might enlist aid from their parent sect or others within the Kazon Order would be tomorrow’s problem.
“We could have taken them, sir,” Lieutenant Bowens remarked from tactical.
“It was an unacceptable risk, Lieutenant. We’ve already destroyed one of their carriers, and that didn’t seem to deter them, so, hopefully, this will make them think twice,” Lancaster replied. “Get back to your team. I want all of their tricorders put in my cabin before we dock with the Arcturus.”
“Their tricorders, sir? They’ve already been downloaded.”
“I’m not going to repeat myself, Lieutenant,” Lancaster replied.
Downloaded, yes, but any data still on their physical storage media would need to be scrubbed. Lancaster would make double sure there was no trace of omega in any records by vaporizing them, too. Bowens looked like he was going to speak up again, but he just nodded and left the bridge.
“I’ll be in the cargo hold. You have the bridge, Windsor. Hold station until further notice,” the captain ordered.
When Lancaster returned to the cargo bay, the blue glow within the sphere of the harmonic resonance chamber had diminished significantly. There were five minutes remaining on the clock, though, and that was far too long for his tastes.
“Well, I didn’t blow us up. The computer says everything is fine, or at least as fine as things can be when we have this stuff onboard. I guess you didn’t end up having to blow up more Kazon?” Anjar asked, looking up from the control console. The question was mostly rhetorical and mostly playful, but he could sense a tinge of judgment behind it.
“They think this is a weapon. I made them think I’d use it on them,” Lancaster noted, nodding to the containment system.
“I didn’t realize you knew how to bluff.”
“I didn’t enjoy destroying that carrier last time if that’s what you’re implying,” the captain replied icily.
Anjar shrugged. “I don’t think you did. I’m just glad you found a different solution this time. The Omega Directive is as dangerous ethically as the molecules themselves are physically.”
“Is this really the time for a philosophical discussion?”
The Bajoran laughed. “I looked through some of Voyager’s logs. Some races call this the ‘god particle,’ so, yeah, I think it’s a perfect time to talk about metaphysics.”
“Better to let the Kazon have it, for the sake of my soul?” Lancaster asked, crossing his arms.
“No, but maybe we don’t have to be so quick to apply maximum firepower to every situation just because we can,” Anjar replied diplomatically. “Though, I don’t think there are any great options for any captain once this directive has been activated.”
“In the long run, I’m not sure if letting the Kazon go was a great option. They’ll only be back and in greater strength,” Lancaster replied. “There’s no way they would ever be able to harness omega, but do you think they’d give up once they saw what it could do? We just have to hope they’ll believe that whatever weapon they thought was being developed was a one-off that’s been destroyed now.”
“I don’t think ‘kill them all’ is really an option either, though.”
“Let’s hope it’s not necessary, then.”
Once Lancaster was sure every single molecule had fully been neutralized, he still had the Hokule’a sit in orbit for another two hours with intense scans focused on the planet’s surface. What had been spontaneously created could be spontaneously recreated, and he didn’t want to take any chances. Half a day after they’d left the Arcturus, the Hokule’a and her crew finally returned to the stardrive section. With the ship in orbit to honor their arrangement to provide medical support, Lancaster finally found his way to the alternate set of quarters set aside for the captain in the stardrive section. While smaller than the set in the saucer section, they were just as large as those on any other large starship.
“Bourbon manhattan. Real alcohol,” Lancaster ordered, as soon as he entered the quarters and started to unfasten the hazard suit he’d been in for far too many hours.
“Make it two, computer,” Sheppard said, poking his head into the living room and dining area from the bedroom.
Lancaster’s mood lightened when he saw his husband, but he was glad that he’d stayed behind on the mothership during the excursion to the planet. After the two drinks materialized in the replicator, Lancaster grabbed them both and walked over to Sheppard.
“Hi,” he said, handing him one of the glasses.
Sheppard leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. “Hi.”
Thankfully after almost a decade, Sheppard was empathic enough with Lancaster’s moods to know that quiet was what he needed at first as they settled down on the couch together. Well, really, what he wanted was to tell him everything and to get the support he had always had from him.
“Does the lack of synthehol mean we’re done with the cloak-and-dagger secret mission yet?”
Lancaster chuckled. “No, it means I’m out of fucks. I hope I’m wrong, but I have a feeling this is just getting started.”